Favourites tag irrelevant, but Toner confident Ireland can now pull any result out of the bag

Consistency was a pipe dream this time last year. In Rome, Ireland can show that they can carry it into a new year.

GOING INTO 2014, Joe Schmidt’s Ireland had set themselves a very clear benchmark.

The near miss against New Zealand was pinned up as an aspirational performance level – even if the result was gut-wrenching. By March, it could be argued that they got close, or maybe even exceeded that mark.

Devon Toner, Gordon D'Arcy, Rob Kearney, Jack McGrath and Conor Murray Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Most importantly, there was a consistency throughout 12 months which brought nine wins from 10 games.

It’s in stark contrast to the preceding period. 2013, a most forgettable year that plumbed the depths with losses at home to Australia and away to Italy, yet also showed flashes of brilliance against the All Blacks, Wales and a draw with France.

Forget Les Bleus. Nobody knew which Ireland team were going to show up.

Now that he has steadied the ship, the challenge for Joe Schmidt is to keep it that way. Ireland have a Six Nations title, but the national psyche still seems to struggle as a front-runner. Maybe, though, just maybe the March win in Paris has gone some way to banishing that spectre.


“I think we have a lot of confidence in the players around us,” says Devin Toner, not quite willing to accept that consistency has been achieved. It’s an ongoing process after all.

“From the previous results – obviously, last Six Nations and November – we have confidence in ourselves that we can pull it out of the bag. And we can rely on all the players around us.”

One way Schmidt helped Leinster to cope with being a favourite in the majority of his game there was a consistent and forceful message that the focus must always be on the next game on the schedule.

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While the rest of the country was bemoaning weakened teams in December inter-pro games, Ireland players and staff were knee deep in preparations for the Six Nations opener against Italy.

The coaches are always working behind the scenes; I don’t think we see a percentage of the work that goes in. We had a little camp over Christmas where we were looking at some of the stuff we were going to impose on them. It was just last week and this week when we really had some vision on them and looking at how to counteract their attack and stuff.

“We have to go in as good as we can be. We don’t want to be feeling our way into things around game three, game four. We want to hit the ground running. We want to kick on from November. We don’t want to be struggling in game one going into game two, three. We really want to look at this game to get things nailed down first.”

Looking after the processes, we’ve long been told, is the key to ensuring a consistently good performance. But even when that ethos is been in place things can simply fail to click on occasion. There must a point in build-up week when a player instinctively knows everything is ticking over nicely, or times when it all begins to look ominous.

Devin Toner during line-out practice Source: Billy Stickland/INPHO

“You can tell in training. You know if everyone has their detail nailed on: if everyone has their knowledge right, if everyone knows the plays, line-outs then you get a bit of confidence going into the game. You can tell lads are clicking in training.

“It is a different ball game once the game’s kicked off. One of the things you can’t control is the opposition, so once the game kicks off, that’s when we’ll really know.”

Let the consistency recommence.

Originally published at 06.45

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Sean Farrell

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